JU-ON (PART TWO)
By Colleen Wanglund, the Geisha of Gore
In Part One of this article (click here), I talked about JU-ON: THE CURSE and THE CURSE 2 (both from 2000), the first two features in the JU-ON franchise. To recap, THE CURSE and THE CURSE 2 were based on two shorts written and directed by Takashi Shimizu and were direct-to-video releases. Ju-on translates to “curse” or “grudge” in English. It is explained that when someone dies violently and with feelings of anger or hatred, a curse is born. The ghost of the dead is the fulfiller of that curse. The movies are comprised of a series of vignettes involving victims of the curse, but the common thread through all is a single house. Kayako and her son Toshio were violently murdered in that house by Kayako’s husband, Takeo Saeki, and now their ghosts fulfill the curse through anyone who comes into contact with the house, no matter how brief or inconsequential that contact is.
In JU-ON: THE GRUDGE (2003) Shimizu continues the original formula of telling the story through multiple vignettes. The movie begins with Rika, a young social worker who has gone to the Tokunaga home to look in on an old woman named Sachie. Hmmm, can you guess where they live? Rika finds Sachie catatonic and home alone. The house is a mess, so Rika begins cleaning up. She finds a photo of a family with the wife’s face removed; she hears a noise from upstairs and goes to investigate. Rika finds a cat and a little boy hiding in a closet, so she calls and reports it to social services. When Rika goes to check on Sachie, she finds a black shadow hovering over the old woman; Rika faints in the corner of the room.
The movie now moves to Katsuya, who is the son of Sachie, and his wife Kazumi. Kazumi reminds Katsuya as he’s leaving for work, that his sister Hitomi will be over for dinner. Later we see Kazumi startled awake from a nap by a sound that she at first believes to be Sachie. When Kazumi goes to investigate, she sees a cat on the stairs and small arms grab the cat. Later when Katsuya returns home he finds Kazumi in an almost catatonic state…..then he sees the ghost of Toshio. Hitomi arrives and finds Katsuya mumbling and incoherent. When she asks about Kazumi, Katsuya makes Hitomi leave the house. The focus of the story now switches to Hitomi. While getting ready to leave work, she stops in the restroom where she gets a disturbing phone call from her brother. Then she sees a shadow emerge from one of the stalls, so she bolts. She asks the building’s security to check it out. Hitomi watches the security camera and sees an extremely disturbing sight, so she leaves for home. Once there, a series of disturbing events leads up to Hitomi’s encounter with Kayako.
The next vignette switches back to Rika. Having not returned to the center she works out of, her boss has gone looking for her. He ends up calling the police, who cannot seem to find the owners of the house. While the police search for the Tokunagas, they uncover evidence that shows multiple missing persons over the years from the same house. This is where the timeline for JU-ON: THE GRUDGE is established. The police contact retired detective Toyama who is the only person left from a previous case tied to the house….the murders of Kayako and Toshio. He is shown the files and a videotape from a building where one of the missing people worked (can you guess who?). Toyama is convinced that it is the house that’s evil, so he attempts to do something about it. While there, he sees a high school girl race out and hears the screams of others upstairs. Toyama is attacked in the house but manages to escape.
The story now moves to Izumi, a high school girl whose three friends have gone missing. Izumi feels guilt for her friends’ disappearance because she was with them poking around in a supposedly haunted house (if you read my column JU-ON Part One then this will be an “aha” moment for you). Izumi has begun displaying some odd behavior….she’s covered her windows in newspaper and insists that her friends’ spirits are looking in at her. What is also disturbing are photos taken of Izumi and her missing friends have the eyes blacked out. Izumi has a dream about her dead father and wakes up only to find her friends have come for her. This particular vignette ties in to the last one in a very spooky way.
The final vignette brings us back to Rika sometime after her experience in the house. She receives a phone call from her friend Mariko who is on a home visit of a student who has never shown up for class. When Mariko tells Rika the name of the student, Rika realizes Mariko is in danger and rushes to help her. Rika arrives at the Saeki house just in time to find Mariko being dragged into the attic by the ghost of Kayako. Unfortunately for Rika, there will be no escape this time from her fate as a victim of the grudge. The movie closes with a series of creepy shots of empty streets littered with missing person’s posters.
JU-ON: THE GRUDGE 2 (2004) follows in the same non-linear vein as its three predecessors, with six different vignettes telling how the grudge passes from person to person. The difference here is the story seems to be more focused around a single event in the house. A television show on haunted houses has set up at the Saeki house because of its history. Horror movie actress Kyoko is appearing as a special guest. The first vignette tells about Kyoko after her appearance on the shoot. Kyoko and her fiancé Masashi hit a cat in the road and then have a very bad accident caused by Toshio. Masashi is in a coma and Kyoko has lost her baby (the conversation between the two prior to the accident is about when Kyoko will tell her agent). Sometime after the accident we see Kyoko on a movie set and two of the extras are Chiharu and Hiromi, the two friends who visited Izumi in JU-ON: THE GRUDGE. Kyoko then goes to the doctor, who tells her that she is three and a half months pregnant. In shock, Kyoko goes back to her mother’s home where, after some time spent in her room, Kyoko finds her mother dead.
The movie’s story now moves to Tomoka, the reporter/host of the show (which is called “Heart-Stopping Backgrounds”). This vignette moves between shots of Tomoka rehearsing her lines, meeting with her friend Megumi, who works as a make-up artist on the show, and some disturbing experiences in her apartment. Tomoka has been hearing strange noises at about the same time every night and has asked her boyfriend Nori to come by. They hear the sounds and are both unnerved by them. The scene then moves to the shoot at the Saeki house. Nori receives a strange phone call, hearing the familiar death rattle of Kayako. He goes to Tomoka’s apartment and sees her, but then gets a phone call from Tomoka asking where he is. The call is cut off and Nori has a meeting with Kayako. Tomoka arrives home to discover what has become of Nori….and it ain’t pretty.
The next vignette follows Megumi and her experience with a mysterious stain in the Saeki house that somehow appears in the make-up room back at the show’s office building. It seems as if Megumi has met her fate. We are also shown quickly that Keisuke, the show’s director has found Kayako’s journal at the house, as well as a letter addressed to the Tokunagas (from THE GRUDGE). Which brings us to Keisuke’s part in the story. Masashi has woken from his coma, but is still unresponsive. Keisuke has gone to meet with Kyoko at the hospital where he tells her of Megumi’s disappearance, as well as the fate of Tomoka and the rest of the television crew who were at the Saeki house that fateful day. He drives Kyoko home and they see Megumi enter the house. Megumi appears inside and leaves behind Kayako’s journal….and a familiar stain on the floor. Kyoko goes back to the Saeki house where she sees Chiharu trying to get out. Is it a vision of some sort?
This next part of the film deals with Chiharu’s story but it is differently from the other vignettes. Chiharu’s experiences with the Saeki house seem to happen during nightmares. Is she actually in the house or is she merely dreaming? We see her banging on the front door begging for help to be let out. At one point she gets out of the house, but appears to wake from a dream while sitting on a bus (the one that carried the extras to the shoot). The entire vignette jumps back and forth between reality and nightmare, ultimately bring us to Chiharu’s fate.
The final part of JU-ON: THE GRUDGE 2 begins with Keisuke arriving at the Saeki house after the door has slammed shut on Chiharu. He enters the house and finds Kyoko unconscious, so he takes her to the hospital. It appears Kyoko has gone into labor and is giving birth….but to what? All in the room are now dead and Kyoko picks up what appears to be a crying baby wrapped in a bloody blanket. Years later Kyoko is seen walking across a bridge with a little girl, carrying Kayako’s journal. It seems as though the curse has been reborn.
As I’ve said, JU-ON: THE GRUDGE and THE GRUDGE 2 were given theatrical release and they did very well. The entire series has been quite popular both in Japan and outside the country. The movies’ scares are more atmospheric than gory, though we do see the physical manifestations of the ghosts, as well as seeing Kayako in her beaten and bloody state. Though the stories are told in a non-linear fashion, certain events overlap, keeping the continuity of the story as a whole.
Personally, I love the JU-ON series. I think they are suitably creepy without having to give too much away. I also like the fact that there is no happy ending….to any of the films. The curse or grudge will continue to go on with no end in sight. There is no way to stop it; the curse is inescapable. That’s pretty damn bleak, in my opinion. That bleakness is made powerfully clear in the final shots of JU-ON: THE GRUDGE with the empty streets and posters of the missing. Is this a foretelling of the future? Takashi Shimizu is an excellent storyteller and created some amazing films on some very low budgets.
As to the character of Kayako, she has been played by Takako Fuji in all four films, the original short “Katasumi” and in two of the American movies. She has said that she would continue to play the role for as long as Shimizu wanted her. She is a trained dancer, ballerina and contortionist….which explains a lot of her movements as Kayako.
JU-ON: THE GRUDGE was remade by Columbia Pictures in 2004 as THE GRUDGE with Takashi Shimizu once again as the director. However the script was rewritten by Stephen Susco and while it follows the same non-linear approach as the original, many aspects, including characters and the ending, were changed. THE GRUDGE 2 (2006) is not a remake of JU-ON: THE GRUDGE 2 but was also directed by Takashi Shimizu and written by Susco. There is THE GRUDGE 3 (2009) but Shimizu had nothing to do with this direct-to-video release, though he does get a screenwriting credit because of the original JU-ON series. I have not seen the American GRUDGE 2 or GRUDGE 3, but I did see THE GRUDGE and didn’t care for it. For me the story was taken out of its cultural context and I didn’t like the changes made. But then I’m not a fan of remakes in general. I can count on one hand how many remakes I’ve actually liked.
As for the entire Japanese JU-ON series, see them all, if you can. They really are a great bit of filmmaking and a lot of fun to watch.
© Copyright 2011 by Colleen Wanglund